IN a way it’s reassuring that, even in these alarming and fast-changing times, one thing remains the same – a lot of people really, really hate The Sun.

It’s a little ironic that at a time when so many of us are being denied exposure to the big hot star in the sky, the tabloid of the same name is setting the news agenda. Even if you don’t read The Sun, you cannot avoid absorbing some of the news it prints and disseminates online. And among the many and varied responses to last weekend’s exclusive story about Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer visiting her second home, I have yet to see anyone suggest it would have been better if her transgressions had simply gone unreported.

I’m sure the Scottish Government would have preferred it that way – after all, a bad example cannot be followed if no-one knows about it. But people did know, and this is Scotland, not China. We have a free press and, just as importantly, a relatively free social media where individual citizens can share not only their opinions on the news but also information that can be verified by journalists and become “the news”. And while we might take exception to the editorial lines of certain papers, or the opinions expressed by columnists writing for them, we retain the option of not buying them and not clicking on them. As readers we can support the titles we most value – including, as of this week, by gifting a subscription to The National to a friend – but it does not follow that the demise of any newspaper amid the current crisis should be celebrated.

This week it was announced that The Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News, which had been preparing to merge, are instead going into liquidation due to the current crisis. Other media companies, including the one that publishes this paper, are putting staff on furlough and cutting the pay of those still working. Some rushed to condemn the first firms to take these steps, while others expressed glee that particular titles were struggling. But no publisher has proved immune to the devastating impact of the pandemic, and it is distasteful in the extreme to effectively gloat over the fact that people cannot buy newspapers because they cannot leave their homes – or, worse still, because they are dying.

One might imagine that increased digital revenues would be going some way to compensating for a nosedive in print sales, given the huge appetite for coronavirus-related news, but in fact the opposite is true. Last week UK newspaper publishers joined forces to appeal to advertisers to support their journalism by removing “coronavirus” from online advertising blocklists. The use of such key word lists is common practice, as it prevents adverts from appearing in contexts that might damage their brands, but currently almost every news story contains the word coronavirus, meaning ads simply aren’t appearing (or being paid for). Industry marketing body Newsworks predicts that if the pandemic lasts for another three months, the cost to UK news brands will be £50 million.

Of course, it is right that how we report and comment on all aspects of the coronavirus crisis is scrutinised. It is right that readers and viewers are putting pressure on journalists to ask the questions they believe matter the most, about PPE for frontline workers, testing for the virus and for the associated antibodies, and the likely duration of lockdown. At the start of this week, Catherine Calderwood’s position as Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer was rightly the focus of many questions. After the news of her travels broke it was plainly not possible for her to remain the face of the Scottish Government’s “stay at home” message. If questions about her position distracted from other important questions about the health crisis then she, not the journalists asking them, was to blame.

There seems to be some confusion just now about what constitutes “gotcha journalism” – and even what constitutes journalism at all. Gotcha journalism involves using interview tactics to trick or trap subjects into damaging or discrediting themselves – not simply asking tough but legitimate questions. Gotcha journalism is not an appropriate description for all reporting of ill-advised things people have said, or for the publishing of pictures showing them doing something wrong. I’ve seen some suggestions that since a photographer for The Sun appears to have travelled to Earlsferry to take pictures of the Calderwoods, the paper deserves the same level of criticism as the CMO. I’ve seen some folk jump to the conclusion that the newspaper must have been “stalking” the family. Then, when it was suggested a tip-off from a local was the more likely source of information, they suggest that following up such a tip-off isn’t journalism at all, merely gossip-mongering.

I wonder, not for the first time, how much understanding the general public have of what journalism actually entails, and of the significant challenges that have been facing our industry since long before the pandemic. Anyone discussing the rights and wrongs of Calderwood’s actions – yes, Prince Charles went to his second home too, and no, that wasn’t “ignored by the media”, as National readers will testify – is able to do so only because The Sun ran its scoop.

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. If papers that don’t fit your political views are struggling, the ones you trust for your information will be too. We need information and critical analysis now more than ever. When this is all over, people who hate The Sun can continue not buying The Sun. But if more media companies fail, there will be dark days ahead.

Scotland is in lockdown. Shops are closing and newspaper sales are falling fast. It’s no exaggeration to say that the future of The National is at stake. Please consider supporting us through this with a digital subscription from just £2 for 2 months by following this link: Thanks – and stay safe.